Housing

‘I’ve had two eviction notices while battling cancer’: How Cornwall’s renters are facing homelessness

A shortage of affordable homes and the rise of holiday lets has left Cornwall leaders asking people with spare rooms to house homeless families. Here’s how the crisis is leaving Cornish people with nowhere to go

Cornwall housing crisis is putting families at risk of homelessness

Parts of Cornwall, like Porthleven, may look irresistible to holidaymakers but the locals are facing a homelessness crisis. Image: Darren Welsh / Unsplash

Cornwall might be one of the UK’s most sought-after staycation destinations but behind the stunning coastal views is an unprecedented homelessness crisis.

In recent weeks Cornwall Council has made increasingly desperate moves to tackle its long-running housing crisis. Homes are in high demand, particularly with the rise of second homes and holiday lets pushing out properties that would previously have been available for rent.

With soaring housing prices and rents, tenants are being handed eviction notices as landlords look to switch to holiday lets or sell up due to rising interest rates.

Meanwhile, emergency accommodation is filling the void with people put up in hotels or homeless pods installed on council car parks.

The council recently confirmed plans for 18 new modular homes available in Penzance as stopgaps to keep people trapped in homelessness out of expensive hotels and B&Bs.

That announcement came after councillors launched a desperate plea for homeowners with spare rooms, annexes or empty homes to offer them up for people who have nowhere else to go. Around 20,000 households are on the county’s social housing waiting list. 

Cornwall Council has been dealing with a surge in the number of households in need of emergency accommodation, which has tripled over the past three years to 750. The social housing register waiting list has more than doubled over the same period to around 22,000 households.

In response, the local authority said it is investing in its own stock of temporary accommodation and building more affordable housing.

A Cornwall Council spokesperson told The Big Issue: “Cornwall continues to experience extreme and unprecedented pressures on housing and we have the upmost sympathy for our residents unable to find a home.

“As a council we want a Cornwall where our residents can ‘start well, live well and age well’ and we are committed to helping any resident faced with homelessness. 

“We are taking action. Having a home is an essential aspect of being able to start well, live well and age well and while there is no quick fix to the current housing crisis, we are committed to delivering suitable homes for our residents in communities where they’re needed.”

The reality means that, for many locals, homelessness is a risk that is never far away.

Kirsty, 40, who asked for her surname not to be published, told The Big Issue she is facing a second eviction notice in the space of a year while she is battling breast cancer.

Kirsty, her partner Carla, 35, and their two-year-old daughter have been told to make way for their landlord’s daughter who is moving into the property in Penwithick.

That leaves her facing an uncertain future as she looks for a new place to live to avoid homelessness in the knowledge that she needs to stay in the area for hospital treatment.

“We were in this situation last year, so this is twice in one year. The time before, the landlord wanted to move back into the property. Landlords have so much power at the moment and it’s people like us who haven’t,” said the adult carer.

“It’s just been stress after stress at the moment. I was diagnosed with cancer on September 1 so I’ve been going through a hell of a time, which the landlord is well aware of.

“So when they kind of dumped this on us I think I just fell to the floor and started crying to be honest because I just thought is there anything else that can go wrong for us? We’ve done our best to stay in the area for 15 years and we’ve got family all around us, which we’ve been so fortunate for during my illness, the support has been priceless with my two-year-old.

“But now we are being told to widen our search and it’s just not that easy.”

With time running out before she has to leave her home, Kirsty is searching for a new place to rent but is finding it tough to find one at the £700 per month rate she is currently paying.

A Big Issue investigation last year found there were as many as 100 holiday lets for each single private rental home on the market in some of the UK’s most sought-after staycation spots.

Office for National Statistics analysis of Census data showed 217,000 people stayed at a holiday home in the UK in 2021, higher than the 180,000 recorded a decade earlier.

The government recently announced a crackdown on holiday lets with plans for new ones requiring planning permission and plans to create a registration scheme to find out how many are out there.

This week housing secretary Michael Gove told The Telegraph regulation was required because the holiday lets market had taken local housing stock and turned it into “a sort of rival hotel”. 

In the meantime, people like Kirsty are struggling to find a place to live.

“I’m literally looking online every hour as are other people for me,” said Kirsty.

“A property comes up and you ring and in minutes the property is fully booked for viewing. It’s difficult as well because they want you to prove that you’ve got a working wage coming between £30,000 and £35,000 a year.

“You get discriminated against for having children and a cat too. You’re almost choosing whether to house yourselves and your child and stay as a family unit or get rid of your cat. Why should we have to split our family up trying to find somewhere to live?

“I just don’t feel like Cornwall is made for the Cornish anymore.”

Cornwall housing crisis is putting families at risk of homelessness
Madeleine West and partner William are looking for a new home along with daughter Elowyn and Harriet. Image: Supplied

Kirsty and her family will be competing against other families to find a new home.

That includes Madeleine West, who has also recently been handed a no-fault eviction notice after her landlord was forced to sell the property due to the impact of rising interest rates.

West, 32, told The Big Issue: “The landlord actually brought with her mortgage statements to prove that the increase in interest rates for mortgages has pushed it to the point where our rent is only covering her mortgage and she doesn’t get anything else out of it. Obviously she didn’t have to do that. 

“The property needs so much work and she just doesn’t have the money to do it.”

West was issued with a Section 21 notice this month, meaning she will have to leave the £625 per month two-bed semi-detached house in Saint Dennis, Cornwall, she shares with partner William Pender and daughters Harriet, three, and Elowyn, one, and the family’s three dogs.

“The market is still absolutely bonkers. Since Covid it’s just gone absolutely bonkers. We can’t even get a look into viewings to places because we’re just not fast enough. And that’s if you start refreshing the page every few seconds, it’s unreal.

“I’ve ended up in a downward spiral and getting quite defeated about that many times because it really makes you think what are we going to do?”

Cornwall housing crisis is putting families at risk of homelessness
West said her current home has problems with mould but her landlord is struggling to deal with rising mortgage rates and cannot afford to fix the problem. Image: Supplied

In the meantime, West has done what others do in times of despair: look to social media.

While the online hive mind may have found a solution for the family, a spell of homelessness likely still awaits.

“I did a social media post and I was expecting maybe like 20 people to share it and it got 1,800 shares, it was insane,” said West. “So many people have messaged me and wanted to offer help and leads to people they know that might have somewhere coming up. That massively shocked me but in a good way.

“We’ve got a couple of leads we’re trying to follow up but they wouldn’t be available for us to live in until September so it might be a case of camping in my parents’ garden until then.”

Social media is not just a place of solutions for people caught up in the Cornish housing crisis, it’s a place of solace too.

Samantha Evans, 50, now runs a Facebook group to support 700 members who are facing homelessness. 

She was homeless herself a year ago after her landlord decided to sell the two-bedroom cottage in Mawnan Smith, Cornwall, where she was paying £650 per month in rent.

Evans could not find a new home during the two-month notice period she was given under her no-fault eviction.

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“The landlady was selling our house to cash in on the post-Covid housing boom,” said Evans.

“We had two months’ notice and we very quickly realised that we didn’t have a hope of finding somewhere at an affordable price.

“This time last year for a two-bed house you were looking at £1,200-£1,400 [per month in rent]. There were 20 to 30 people vying for one property so it was a bidding war. We were told many times by a local estate agent: ‘What’s your best offer?’ or ‘Can you pay six months upfront?’. That’s illegal.”

With nowhere to go, Evans, 50, who works in tourism was forced to sofa surf, staying with two different relatives alongside her partner Dave Evans, 37, and stepson Caden Evans, 18.

The family were later housed by Cornwall Council after appearing on ITV News but the experience of homelessness has stuck with her, now she tries to help others who are in the same situation she was in.

Cornwall housing crisis is putting families at risk of homelessness
Samantha Evans and her family ended up homeless after being evicted last year, now she is helping others who end up in the same situation. Image: Supplied

“You feel so ashamed to begin with. I was in my late 50s, worked all my life and I’m homeless with kids and my cat. But then I started shouting about it and got louder and louder and now I have absolutely no shame, my Facebook is plastered with it,” said Evans.

“That’s what the group is there for. We don’t lay the blame on anyone. It’s closely monitored to be a safe place where you can go on and support others who have been going through or gone through what you’re going through. We just 100 per cent support each other.

“Homelessness is completely normalised here. It should be a shocking situation and people should be going, ‘Oh my god, you’re homeless’. But it’s a normal conversation in the street. There is nothing shocking about seeing a homeless person around here.”

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